Saving the “Ole Man”


   The year was 1987. The “ole man” turned his head and scowled something under his breath, as I joined him and 5 or 6 other wade fisherman at about 10 yards to his right side. The location was Fishers Reef in Galveston's Trinity Bay. I had waded from my boat, which I made sure to anchor at a respectable distance from the line of wade fisherman who were already there and casting out just beyond the sharp drop off running along one side of the reef. Everyone seemed to have bent rods which is why I parked my boat in the first place and each man was giving his full attention to the next strike; Strikes, which seemed to be coming, as fast, as each man could cast. It was one of those great moments in a speck fisherman’s life and the ole man wasn’t happy at all that I was slipping in beside him to join the party.
   I steadied myself for the first cast, while glancing to my left at the “ole man’. After giving me one final glaring evil eye as he finished stringing up a 3 pound trout, he got into position at the very edge of the drop off to cast again. On my home front, however, the first drag I had made through the strike zone came up empty, so I focused a curious eye on the ole man’s next cast, as I reeled the rest of the way in, myself.
   He made a beautiful cast, which immediately set in motion a deadly chain of events. Here’s what happened. As he finished the forward motion of his cast, the entire rod slipped through his hands and into the murky water in front of him. Without missing a beat, he automatically launched his entire body forward after his rod and in less than a heartbeat disappeared under the surface of that same murky water which had just swallowed up his rod.
   I had no time to be startled. I instinctively moved quickly toward the spot, where I saw him standing just before he had launched himself forward and went under. Just as I was almost there his face barely broke the surface of the water and disappeared again. Now, as I arrived on the lip of the drop off directly in front of where he had appeared, fortunately, his face broke the surface of the water again. I knew this would be the last time I would ever see him alive if I didn’t do something fast. I could just tell that he didn’t have the strength to come to the surface again. Fortunately, he was within range of my rod tip and still had enough wits about himself to grab the end of my out stretched rod and hold on tight while I pulled him to safety. Why had he not been wearing a life jacket? I have no idea, but neither was I and neither were any of the other fishermen on the reef that day, as I recall.
   When I pulled him in and he reached water swallow enough to stand up, he did so, and without so much as acknowledging that I even existed, he just started walking toward his boat, while muttering to himself, how he had just lost his brand new rod and reel. I said nothing. What could I say? It was quite obvious that saying nothing was the best course to take. Anyway, he kept walking toward his boat and away from the reef, so I did the most logical thing that I knew to do in a situation like this. I turned to make hay with the fish, while the making was good, casting from the very spot where he had been standing. However, as I made the next cast, I did marvel at how such a life threatening event could go so unnoticed by the other fishermen on the reef. I didn’t see a single man turn his head in our direction when the ole man went under. To be honest, I really don’t think anyone, but me, saw him because it happened so quickly. Everyone was so intent on snagging their next trout that they were completely oblivious to the rest of their surroundings. And the big question is this. If my first cast had produced a trout on the end of my line, would I, myself, have been able to overcome that distraction and react in time to have gotten to him before he went under for the final time? I really don’t think so.
   But quickly, the contemplation of that narrowly averted tragedy soon vanished from my mind, as I felt the tell tail tug of a trout on the end of my line, as I made my first cast from his spot. I had just hooked a nice trout and the first one of the day for me.

   Then, something weird happened. The tip of the ole man’s rod appeared. I had snagged it and somehow my hook had become caught in the eyelet at the very end, so there was virtually no way I could lose his rod. Now, I did the only thing that I knew to do. I turned and hollowed out in a loud voice at the old man, who was still walking toward his boat. “I got your rod!”, I said, and he Immediately turned around, so quickly, that it looked like someone had just slapped him on the backside. I would have sworn, from his agile movement, that I was looking at a much younger man. He then turned and started shuffling toward me, faster than I would have ever dreamed he was capable of doing. As he kept moving forward, he did the “Sting Ray Shuffle” which is what all experienced wade fisherman know to do, and he kept shouting, “You got my rod”! “You got my rod”! “You got my rod”! It was really a funny sight to behold, especially when compared to what could have been happening now had fateful events taken a different turn. Finally, when he reached me, I handed his rod to him, and said, “Not only do I have your rod, but there is a 3 pound trout on the end of it”. Sure enough, he reeled in a 3 pound trout.
   After quickly stringing his fish, surprisingly, he turned to me and said, “I want you to fish with me anytime”. His face now had a beaming smile on it, as he made this remark. Any casual onlooker who knew nothing of the recent events, would have sworn that the “Ole Man” was talking to his favorite son.
   Many years have passed now, but the events of that day still haunt me. Each time I think about that old man, I am reminded of how fast the most important things can slip away from us in a flash. No, I am not talking about the fact that the “Ole Man” almost drowned. I am talking about the fact that he probably knew more about fishing, than I would be able to learn in the next 20 years, and he had offered to be my fishing buddy, but in youthful stupidity, I just left him standing there, without getting a name and phone number. Can you believe that?




Wayne Wade